Sunday, March 14, 2010

On no! Another Pope Pius XII blog!

After a long time wondering whether I should or should not commit my thoughts to a blog on Pius XII I was finally prompted to do something after The New York Times published an article by journalist Paul Vitello on 7 March 2010 entitled "War Time Pope has a Huge Fan: Jewish Knight".

Vitello had interviewed me via telephone in mid-February for nearly an hour. The interview ranged far and wide on issues to do with Gary Krupp and Pave The Way, contemporary scholarship on Pope Pius XII and reactions to PTW claims that historians who held positions contrary to them were just not working hard enough or, worse, were ignoring information that did not sit with their particular world-views. Vitello listened as I set out what I believe to be the mainstream position of historians who work in this area. Regretfully, not much of the via media seemed to get into the article.

So this is where I start this blog.

The mainstream position on the question/s of Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust is as follows:

1. Mainstream historians are not interested in either canonising or vilifying Pius XII. We are intrested in seeking and publishing the historical record based on evidence from as many sources as possible.

2. We are interested in seeking as complete a picture of the historical period using every available resource we can access.

3. Our work is of its nature, slow and time consuming. It has to be, lest we fall into the trap of simplistic and literalist interpretations.

4. We work collaboratively, exploring our different and particular interests, but always with a willingness to learn from each other.

5. None of us claims to have the entire picture - it is impossible at present because there is still so much material that has yet to be examined.

6. Based on what is currently available - Actes et Documents, the published documents of the German, British, French, Italian, and United States Foreign Offices, etc - the mainstream holds that Pope Pius XII was active in various ways to try and save the Jews of Europe, but that he did not speak clearly or unambiguously in condemning the murderof the Jews of Europe. There is much that still needs examining on both counts here.

7. The mainstream holds that Pius XII was concerned for the Jews of Europe, before and during the war, but was limited in terms of what he could do - not in terms of what he could say.

8. The post-war claim of Pinchas Lapide that Pius was responsible to saving 860,000 Jews is unsubstantiated either by Lapide himself or any credible historian.

9. The mainstream holds that all reports - positive and negative - must be examined within their various contexts and understood as being limited by a wide variety of factors. Therefore, articles published in The New York Times or testimonies by people such as Israel Zolli, Golda Meir etc cannot be read only at face value.

10. History is best served by careful and tested research that reports and records as many angles of the subject as possible. "Scrap book history" (the throwing together of a bundle of unanalysised documents, reports, testimonies and articles) is, in the end, unsatisfactory, pointless and risks the accusation of being apologetic or polemic. The mainstream seeks to write history, not polemic.


  1. Paul,
    firstly, welcome to the Blogosphere. By you becoming a blogger, the IQ of the sphere has just risen appreciably.
    Secondly, I've always viewed history's importance as a study which help explain who and why we are. Which makes your study of Pius XII so important, because with the growth of antisemitism, denialism, and anti-Zionism which is exploding as a veneer for hatred of Jews, it's become imperative to continue the task of revealing truth of the Holocaust. It's not just Toben and Irving and Ahmedinejad who are leading the chorus of obscene deniers, but more and more national leaders are questioning the legitimacy of Israel's existence as a refuge for Jews as a result of the Shoah.
    Nothing...not established facts nor legalisms...will change the minds of antisemites, but with scholarship such as yours, at least there'll be a bedrock of facts upon which we can base arguments. And one of the foundation bricks to stymie the growth of denialism is the action of Pius XII during and after the War.
    Again, Paul, welcome to this new Sphere of your quest for truth.

  2. Welcome to the world of blogging, Paul! I am thrilled to find you taking up this medium, as it is immediate and accessible. I do not know whether to hope you find plenty of material to comment on or not! :-) I will link to your blog from mine, and also advertise this blog through my ecumenical and interfaith connections and feature it on our Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission Website. I am looking forward to reading more on this site.

  3. Hello Paul,

    I come here from Sentire Cum Ecclesia where I am a long-time (albeit silent) observer of Mr. Schütz's insightful ponderings. As a Catholic university student undergoing an Honours year in History, I've maintained a great deal of interest in the 'Pius Wars' and would be interested in contributing to your blog, should you permit.

    Your statement that 'mainstream historians are not interested in either canonising or vilifying Pius' does seem to contradict what I presume to be your Amazon profile where you state: 'I am on the public record voicing protest against the proposed beatification of Pacelli - it is bad history and bad theology.' Based on this, it does seem that Pius's recognition as being among the angels in Heaven does actually concern you. Perhaps you have since changed your mind?

    As to the pontiff's not 'speak[ing] clearly or unambiguously in condemning the murder of the Jews of Europe, I would refer you to an article by Kilian McDonnell in Gregorianum entitled 'Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust: Fear of Reprisals and Generic Diplomacy.' He argues that the Jews of Europe were deliberately reticent when it came to condemning the Nazis; believing it would place them at even greater risk. When advocacy groups in the United States and Britain condemned the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops, German Jews were apparently furious that they had spoken out and demanded they cease their activism. McDonnell would later write in a review of Pierre Blet’s book: ‘Pius himself said that when he spoke he weighed each word with profound seriousness in the interest of those who suffer.’

    By and large the Jews were familiar with the ebbs and flows of antisemitism and hoped that the Nazis were merely a passing phase and it might even be said that Pius himself was aware of this seemingly endless tension, believing that it would soon come to end. Tragically, it did not. Nevertheless, we only know that with the benefit of hindsight and I think the calculated extermination of Jews - largely explainable by prevailing Social Darwinian discourses amongst the Nazis - took everyone by surprise.

    McDonnell quite rightly suggests that Pius XII needed to balance prophetical responsibilities with prudential ones so to ensure the safety of Catholics. To expect him to take action which would threaten the lives of the faithful is unfair. Consider the failure of the Dutch bishops to affect change from their condemnation, which only served to provoke savage reprisals from the Nazis leading to the deportation of Jewish Catholics like St. Edith Stein.

    It is my opinion that shouts of righteous indignation from Pius would have done little to tame the Nazi beast and would only serve to convince its increasingly paranoid leadership that the Vatican had fallen under the influence of the scheming Jews. See: As Robert Katz (hardly an admirer of Pius) says, it was only when Himmler ‘realising all was lost and contemplating his own survival, order[ed] the killing machines dismantled.’

    We know that Hitler had ordered the drawing up of plans to annex the Vatican and arrest Pius; I believe Himmler often expressed his fantasy of personally ripping the papal vestments from his body. Had this happened, the Vatican would have ceased serving as a sanctuary for thousands of Italian Jews, the gold reserves used to facilitate their escapes would have been lost and the Allied listening post believed to be present within its walls abruptly silenced. Because of this prudential neutrality, Italian Jews, after their Danish co-religionists, had the highest rate of survival. It is worth pointing out that the Danes themselves had allowed the Nazis to occupy their country without firing a shot yet on that fateful night in October 1943, they bravely ferried their doomed Jewish neighbours across to Sweden. They were silent in their words, deafening in their deeds. Could the same be said of Pius XII?


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